Wandsworth Council stands by decision to sell land to Barratt Homes
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP, is reviewing the planning consent previously granted by the Planning Department of the London Borough of Wandsworth to itself, for the 'controversial private housing development' on school land in order to fund repairs to the dangerously neglected Grade II Listed Elliott School (now known as ARK Academy, Putney).
A spokesman for Save Elliott School said:
" The Council claimed that with limited resources selling the land was the only option to refurbish the school, despite the council having £200 million in reserves. Even with the option to apply for funding from the Priority Schools Building Programme the Council refused to consider or try different funding options other than selling the land. The way in which the property was marketed then restricted the number of potential purchasers so the site was sold at an under-value rate without necessary consents in place. This is particularly troubling if austerity was the real issue. At the same time other schools in the borough with far fewer structural problems than ARK Putney have been afforded large sums of money to renovate."
London Councils have warned of the growing shortage of school places across the capital’s 32 boroughs. According to a recent report, the shortfall of places for school pupils will rise to 133,000 by 2018 unless urgent investment is made to construct new school facilities and extend existing buildings and land.
The spokesperson Save Elliott School commented:
" Barratt Homes’ commercial development project intended for 41% of ARK Putney’s playing fields, will significantly reduce the capacity of the school by almost a half. Meanwhile a controversial academy school was established in one of the wealthiest areas of Wandsworth despite the Councils claims of fiscal stringency, solely on the basis that there would be a need for more school places for the future. It is peculiar that Elliott stands as an exception to this policy."
"The public demands answers to serious questions about the development deal. We were given to understand that Barratt would pay around £33m for the site, co-incidentally the exact amount of the amended repair costs. The original Lend Lease quotation was for £20m, but this rose within weeks to £33m without any explanation from the Council, despite repeated requests. The Quantity Surveyor's report was also requested. This document, funded by Council tax payers, should have been in the public domain but was withheld at the Council's "discretion". This is a very serious matter, which the Council need to explain fully, particularly as Barratt are major donors to the Tory party. As yet they have refused to answer any questions raised by local residents."
The Council vigorously defends decision to sell land with a spokesman for the council stating:
"The claim that this land was "playing fields" is incorrect and presumably explains why the minister felt the panel's advice was flawed and rejected it. The simple fact is that much of it was covered in concrete or tarmac and included a car park and redundant old buildings. When the pupils play organised team sports they use the playing fields in Dover House Road - just a few minutes walk away.
"The school desperately needed around £30m of investment to bring it up to 21st century standards. It would have been easier and cheaper to rebuild it from scratch but this was not possible because it's a listed building. In the years leading up to the decision around £5m had been spent on repairs but there was simply no magic pot of money available to give Elliott's pupils the kind of school they deserve.
"Our decision had the full backing of the head teacher, the governors and parents who understood that this offered the only realistic chance of keeping the school viable and ensuring it can serve pupils in Putney for decades to come. We do not believe there is any prospect whatsoever of Mr Pickles revoking a properly awarded planning permission".
However, Save Elliott School campaigners refute the Council's statement:
"... claiming that the land sold was not playing fields (‘None of it is used for sports purposes’), is a complete lie that at
best shows a damning ignorance and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead the public."
images from Save Elliott School
View of the school & land before
An ex-pupil and campaigner against the development said:
“As an ex-pupil I’m really ashamed of my council and saddened by what’s happened to a building I loved. I’ve seen some really terrible misinformation... for instance the council has tried to suggest that sports facilities aren’t being lost, which is a bare-faced lie. I’ve also heard that Dover House Road sports’ fields are being offered as an alternative, despite being a 20-minute walk away through residential areas and across main roads - that’s 40 minutes wasted PE time there and back. And they are trying to privatise Dover house road anyway! The ‘hard’ argument is supposed to be that this is an austerity issue, but its clear that the council had no interest in even considering alternative funding options. It has also sold the land at an undervalued rate. Why after years and years of neglect is the council allowed to caveat its responsibility to refurbish the school with land sales! My only conclusion is that the council had decided it wanted to sell the land to Barratt long before the consultation process and simply doesn’t care for the building or its students. I wonder had the school been closer to Northcote Road whether funding would be an issue…”
Campaigners, including ex-pupils and teachers as well as local residents, are seeking to preserve this important Grade II listed School, with many famous alumni such as Pierce Brosnan, and musicians the XX and Hot Chip, for future generations, with its magnificent setting and cultural and sports facilities intact.
Another Campaigner said:
“Why take away existing school places when London desperately needs more? The rationale for this development project is hopelessly flawed. Instead of destroying forever large areas of the site, the Council should be investing in it to expand the school’s existing capacity to alleviate the chronic shortage of places. Since the Olympic year, 2012, Wandsworth Council has wanted to sell this school, a public asset, for purely private development – not much of a legacy is it? Our children deserve better, and should be given the facilities they need for healthy minds in healthy bodies.”
December 19, 2014